Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and it’s not because of the meal. No, it’s the coming together of family, friends and the friends you would choose to be family.
I loved hosting at our home in Maryland. It capped off weeks of planning and preparation; we hosted nearly every year and we had huge numbers, often more than 15 loved ones at our table. Every year I savored the same moment, when I would sit down in my fancy dress at one end and meet the gaze of my dashing husband Jeffrey at the other. That moment when our eyes lock and we toast to another feast, another year of our life together. I admit Thanksgiving was a huge statement of Jeff’s love--he would go above and beyond in the kitchen to create a wonderful day.
Each year on Thanksgiving, I also send one text message to a man not my husband. Many of you may recall I send a text to my pulmonologist, I nicknamed, Harvard. I will never be able to think of Thanksgiving without thinking of him. His text message marks another year that he kept me alive for my family. It’s no small feat--as he calls me his most “unique patient” (that’s code for his most high maintenance.) Thanksgiving is forever tied to thanking him for my life, for keeping his promises and for ultimately letting me go. <see my Patient Worthy post about Harvard here>
This Thursday marks the culmination of a unique year; by far the toughest in my life. As my friend Alison, a child psychologist, reminds me there are some serious omissions in, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” Jeffrey and I have faced many challenges as parents, from the beginning, when I was on bed rest, worried sick that they would come too soon. I remember being wracked with guilt that I was so bad at pregnancy. I carried both of these Beauties to term and knew that life would be filled with what we call our ”unique opportunities”. I took comfort in knowing that through all of it, Jeff and I would weather the storms with our faith and love. We had so many years supporting Ian’s Asperger's diagnosis that we honestly were stunned when anorexia arrived in our life.
Thanksgiving is a food based holiday and it creates a set of painful firsts for our family. The first year that anorexia will join us at the table. Norah has spent the last oodles of years pestering me the week before Thanksgiving. “...is it time? Do we get to make the cranberries?” and just last year she made the entire recipe by herself. I have 12 years of photos making my famous cranberry dish with Norah, it is our tradition. About a week ago, I gently asked Norah if she would make them. With a deep sadness, she replied, “No, Mom--it’s just too hard.” I have wrestled with the question for myself. Do I make them when she is at school? Or do I just forget about making them all together?
Cranberries had me thinking that in households throughout the country families will face difficult firsts. How do you give thanks, when let’s be honest, it’s hard to be thankful let alone have gratitude. Gratitude is difficult when you look around and see hurt and pain. I get it. In our family in addition to Norah’s health, we have been surrounded by our loved ones who have faced unspeakable tragedy. We lost two important members of our family and additionally we lost some dear family friends. This year has been brutal.
And all through the year, I have had to take moments to process my grief. To let the pain of our life wash over me. And each and every time I have felt like this has to be the bottom, then another tough day comes. What has amazed me is the moments of light--little moments of blinding light. When I stop and think about the last year, I’m reminded that there are whole groups of people that weren’t walking with us a year ago. Today, I marvel how is it possible that we have been on this journey without them. I also have been able to use this hard year to teach my kids the words of wise Fred Rogers, aka. Mister Rogers. Look for the Helpers...
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LGHtc_D328 (video of Mr. Rogers)
The Helpers are the small little bright spots that have brought me to my knees as quickly as the darkest moments. The sheer thoughtfulness of people in our lives, some strangers and some lifelong friends.
It was the woman who sold me my coffee everyday in the hospital. Hot. Dark. Coffee. Met with a loving smile and the same greeting, “I hope today is a better day for you and your daughter.” Or maybe it was Ian’s vice principal who showed us such compassion when we shared how hard the summer had been. His words and thoughtfulness were filled with such kindness it makes me tear just thinking of the moment. There was the exhausting day, a ridiculously delicious cosmetic bag of treats arrived from Nordstrom. The box included a love note from my dear friend Charlene that said, ”I’m thinking you haven’t pampered yourself lately...I love you.” Included in the bag were lotions and potions that hid the dark circles under my eyes. It had to be made by unicorns or fairy dust--it is that good! My eyes are blinded every day, by Norah’s little girl tribe of giggles, the sweet girls that sit with her at lunch. Norah takes about five or ten minutes longer to finish her lunch. Each and every day, one of her 6th grade tribe sits with her in the grass--cheering the last bite of lunch. The amazing truth is most of the girls don’t even know she has anorexia, they just know she has a tough time eating. Then they skip off together and join in the game. No mean girls, just bright lights, to guide her. I can go on about the doctors, therapists, the entire faculty, the new moms at the school... The list is long of faces we didn't know we were missing.
But, I have to be honest, even with the bright lights, the last month my prayer life has been focused on acceptance. To tolerate what I call the intolerable, to be accepting that once again life is filled with more “unique opportunities” that I don't want. That this part of our journey is filled with two steps forward, three back. Eating disorder recovery is nothing close to a straight line. Inter-spaced with our struggles, Jeff’s family also had to face the loss of the matriarch. Jeff’s grandmother died this summer as we were leaving San Diego. She had lived well in her more than 100 plus years. I suggested to Jeff that we needed to honor her this year. And the only thing I could come up with was to make her legendary carrot cake. We decided to make three cakes for her three children to share on Thanksgiving. The cakes mark our thankfulness for them, and to say without saying--we miss her too. And we are thinking of her children on the first Thanksgiving in their 70+ years without their mom. Who made the cakes, you ask...my amazing husband, Jeffrey did. Bourbon in hand, he baked them with his love. He made a cake for his Uncle, his Aunt and his Mom.... I know, he is as sweet as pie or in this case carrot cake.
Which get’s me back to my cranberries...It seems like such a small and insignificant question. Flipping cranberries. Seems so stupid. They are just a food item, but in our family they mark the tradition. I had been making the cranberries long before I had the Beauties... and they will hopefully make them long after I’m gone. The cranberries mark the continuation of time. That every year, for better or worse we persevere. We keep fighting, and we move forward, acknowledging that life is full of hard times...
I delicately asked Norah’s brilliant therapist what to do about the flipping cranberries. I honestly felt a little lost. I asked, do I set them aside, make them while she is at school, or what? The decision was decisive. I was to be a sous chef and support Norah in the kitchen. That this process will likely be our worst experience of making the cranberries. It may be filled with tears and pain, but it’s time for Norah to regain this piece of her life. Norah will make the cranberries. It’s not so much that it’s a food, it’s the reintegration of something that is an integral part of our year. Cranberries would now be part of her recovery. For many it would seem brutal to have Norah face this hurdle at this time, but just like tennis, school and other aspects of her life, we need to face them.
Norah wasn’t happy, last night when we remind her that cranberries were on the agenda for today. Early this morning, while Ian was still sleeping, we tackled the cranberries... I have to be honest, I was prepared for a tough time; hopeful for fun and ready for everything in between. We had some great distractions, we played the soundtrack from Moana, Frozen and a few early Christmas carols. We talked about how hard it was to touch the cranberries, the miserable smell of the oranges and measuring the sugar felt stickier than in the past. But, my girl got it done, we may have even laughed more than a couple times.
In my heart I see this life for it’s intrinsic beauty, but what I continue to make peace with is, it isn’t always going to be pretty.
Life is about perseverance.
This year more than any other, the cranberries mark another milestone. This year it’s about resilience.
That my Pilgrims is what I’m most grateful for... our resilience.
From my family to yours, I send you my deepest love for a Happy Thanksgiving.
Kathryn / PilgrimageGal
PS. You too can make these most amazing Kathryn Cranberries. Recipe link here. xo